Degree of Threat: High
Comments: Stocks on the Atlantic slope have been severely reduced by overfishing (mainly late 1800s and early 1900s), pollution, sedimentation, and blockage of access to spawning areas by dams (Gilbert 1989, Burkhead and Jenkins 1991, Marine and Coastal Species Information System 1996).
Commercial harvest targeted adult females (source of caviar), which led to fisheries collapse (Secor 2002). In recent years, landings in Canadian waters have increased substantially whereas in the U.S. landings are more controlled or prohibited; fishery managers in Canada are in the process of establishing more stringent regulations (Smith and Clugston 1996). Current information indicates that accidental mortality of Atlantic sturgeon bycatch does not threaten or endanger populations along the Atlantic coast (Atlantic Sturgeon Status Review Team 1998). In the southeastern U.S., significant numbers are caught, killed, and/or injured in gill-net fishery for American shad and in trawl fishery for PENAEUS shrimp (Collins et al. 1996).
Habitat loss due to dam construction and water pollution are thought to be major factors impeding full recovery of populations (Smith 1985, cited by Johnson et al. 1997; Gilbert 1989). In Chesapeake Bay and elsewhere in the range, hypoxic events have increased and may degrade nursery habitat for Atlantic sturgeon (Secor and Gunderson 1997). Declines in water quality in coastal bays and in the Gulf of Mexico may hinder recovery by negatively impacting benthic invertebrate communities; sturgeons rely on these areas for nourishment during periods of gonadal growth (Fox et al. 2002). A late maturation age and use of estuaries, coastal bays, and upstream areas of rivers for spawning and juvenile development make stocks vulnerable to habitat alterations in many areas.
See NMFS (1998) and Atlantic Sturgeon Status Review Team (1998) for further details and evaluation of current threats.